Sappho: Fragment 47 x 14
The last time I held a Sapphopalooza, we looked at six different versions of what is possibly her only surviving complete poem, the Hymn to Aphrodite. This time I thought it would be interesting to see the many possibilities of one short fragment – really just a simile, about love but grand in the epic style, that survives from an otherwise unknown poem. The oldest version here from my ever-growing collection of Sappho translations is only from the late 1950s. I think earlier periods prized these surviving remnants of the past, but were more likely to see in them antiquarian rather than aesthetic interest; the twentieth century, under the influence of Imagism and other poetics that favor brevity and fragmentation, were more likely to find a remnant like this a satisfactory poem on its own.
And it is indeed a vivid and emotionally complete statement. The translations, though all from a relatively compact period, show a surprising range emotionally (from wonderment to agony and various places in between) and technically (from an emphasis on the fragmentary and dislocated to attempts at recreating the formal structure of the original). Each version reflects a slightly different view of love, of Sappho, of what Sappho should sound like to our foreign ears, and of what makes an effective poem.
The original was preserved in the Orations of Maximus of Tyre:
Socrates says Eros is a sophist, Sappho calls him a weaver of tales. Socrates is driven mad for Phaedrus by Eros, while Sappho's heart is shaken by Eros like a wind falling on oaks on a mountain; (i.e.):That quotation is from the Loeb Classical Library text, and so is the first translation below. I'm starting with this one because, as previously noted, the purpose of the Loeb series is to provide a straightforward, fairly denotative guide on the right-hand pages to the original on the left-hand pages, so this version should be a fairly clear guide to the basic meaning of the words. The other translations are arranged alphabetically by the translator's surname; the date after each is the copyright date of the translation. One translator rendered it twice; his come in order of copyright date.
Ἔρος δ’ ἐτίναξέ μοιφρένας, ὠς ἄνεμος κὰτ ὄρος δρύσιν ἐμπέτων
Love shook my heart like a wind falling on oaks on a mountain.
— trans. David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric: Sappho & Alcaeus, 1982
Love shook my heart
like the wind on the mountain
rushing over the oak trees
— trans. Josephine Balmer, Poems & Fragments, 1984
As a whirlwind
swoops on an oak
Love shakes my heart
— trans. Mary Barnard, Sappho: A New Translation, 1958
THE BLAST OF LOVE
Like a mountain whirlwind
punishing the oak trees,
love shattered my heart.
— trans. Willis Barnstone, Sappho and the Greek Lyric Poets, 1962
Love shook my heart like wind
on a mountain punishing oak trees.
— trans. Willis Barnstone, Sweetbitter Love: Poems of Sappho: A New Translation, 2006
Eros shook my
mind like a mountain wind falling on oak trees
— trans. Anne Carson, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, 2002
Desire has shaken my mind
As wind in the mountain forests
Roars through trees.
— trans. Guy Davenport, 7 Greeks, 1965
Love shakes my heart
like a wind
sweeping down a mountain
— trans. Suzy Q. Groden, The Poems of Sappho, 1966
Eros has shaken my mind,
wind sweeping down the mountain on oaks
— trans. Stanley Lombardo, Poems and Fragments, 2002
like a cyclone
— trans. Richard O'Connell, 1975, from The Sappho Companion, edited by Margaret Reynolds
Like a gale smiting an oak
On mountainous terrain,
Eros, with a stroke,
Shattered my brain.
— trans. Aaron Poochigian, Stung with Love: Poems and Fragments, 2009
Then love shook my heart like the wind that falls on
oaks in the mountains.
— trans. Jim Powell, The Poetry of Sappho, 2007
Love shook my senses,
like wind crashing on mountain oaks.
— trans. Diane J. Rayor, Sappho's Lyre: Archaic Lyric and Women Poets of Ancient Greece, 1991
shakes my heart like the wind rushing down on
the mountain oaks.
— trans. M L West, Greek Lyric Poetry, 1993
(The second photo was taken at the San Francisco Legion of Honor; the others are from the Metropolitan Museum's classical galleries.)